Bringing care to communities

March 4, 2019
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Bringing care to communities

PHOTOGRAPHY BY KEVIN GARRETT

Excerpted from page 26 of the October 2018 edition of AOA Focus.

A federally designated Medically Underserved Area, Boardman, Oregon, on the banks of the Columbia River, is home to 3,200 people. Many are served by the community health center bearing the river's name, but vision care wasn't a priority until a collaborative opportunity presented itself to Rebecca Chown, O.D.

In April 2016, Oregon Health & Science University's (OHSU) Head Start program teamed up with Dr. Chown to ensure 26 children—who had been on a one-year wait list for care—could receive follow-up care from an eye doctor. Dr. Chown agreed to volunteer her time and conducted comprehensive eye exams on the 3- and 4-year-olds.

"It wasn't just a little bit of farsightedness or nearsightedness," she says. "We're talking three diopters of astigmatism and significant amounts of farsightedness or nearsightedness. These children were in sincere need."

She knew that an occasional visit wouldn't be enough and began brainstorming with her Head Start and OHSU partners. They found a new partner in Columbia River Health, a federally qualified community health clinic, which allowed them to set up a portable clinic. The community need was evident, and the partnership started working toward a permanent solution at Columbia River Health. But equipment is expensive, so Dr. Chown pitched her project to Optometry Cares®—The AOA Foundation.

The Healthy Eyes Healthy Children Community Grants Program, supported by founding sponsor Essilor Vision Foundation, Healthy Eyes Advantage, and EyeCare Partners, is an Optometry Cares initiative that focuses on increasing outreach of vision services to communities, families, schools and the medical community with special attention to underserved children. The program furnishes up to $5,000 in grant money to projects that help support those goals and align important optometric care within the community.

By taking a grassroots approach through the optometric community and working through existing community-based vision care models nationwide, funding is intended to spread awareness and increase vision services to address uncorrected vision in each community.

"Our communities don't know how often they should be getting an eye exam. They don't know that kids should be having routine eye exams, and they don't know kids should be seen on a regular basis," Dr. Chown says.

Closing the gaps

For the 2017-2018 grant cycle, the Healthy Eyes Healthy Children Community Grants Program awarded $65,250 in grants, supporting community projects in 12 states and benefiting an estimated 22,500 people. According to its end-of-year report, the projects resulted in 9,182 eye examinations, which resulted in 3,058 "new wearers."

"Our hope is to facilitate ongoing collaborations teaming doctors of optometry with community resources to reach out and meet the vision and eye health needs of children under 18 years of age who are not currently receiving the care they need," says Carol Marusich, O.D., Optometry Cares board member and HEHC committee co-chair with Carol Record, O.D.

"Projects that address community education, awareness of the importance of vision, and access to care for underserved children in these hometown communities will impact student success now," says Dr. Marusich. "This is an opportunity for doctors of optometry to lead the way in helping their communities."

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